Plant mint for fresh recipes or to help attract beneficial insects to your garden.
Mint plants have long been prized for crisp, soothing aroma and ease of growth. In fact, they grow so well that in some cases they get a little too rambunctious. One plant is usually plenty to supply a summer’s worth of this refreshing herb. Along with their culinary and aromatic properties, mint flowers attract pollinators.
When people typically think of mint, two types come to mind: peppermint and spearmint. There are several other lesser-known species, all with a distinct taste. Mint plants are easily crossed with one another, and several hybrids occur naturally, resulting in a range of delicious flavors, scents, and intensities.
Most commonly grown for their culinary appeal, many species are attractive. In summer, clusters of small blooms appear in shades of lavender, but can be white or pink, too. There are also attractive variegated mints, which make eye-catching garnishes. Look for variegated pineapple mint with its cream-edged fuzzy leaves or ginger mint with deep green leaves and golden veins.
Mint Care Must-Knows
No matter which variety you decide to grow, mint tolerates a variety of soil conditions. For the most productive plants with the strongest flavor, give mint a spot in rich soil and provide consistent moisture. Although many varieties tolerate drought, they won't grow as well or have as good a flavor. Mint grows well in containers, which is a perfect way to have a clump right near your kitchen door for quick and easy clipping for recipes. This is also a great way to control its aggressive habit. Mint spreads quickly by underground runners known as rhizomes and can quickly take over a garden bed and out-compete nearby plants. If you want the mint in the ground, plant it in a container with the bottom removed to contain the runners.
Related: Guide to Mint Plants
Mint grows best in full sun as long as they are well-watered, otherwise they tolerate part shade. If you are growing mint for their flowers to attract beneficial insects to the garden, plant them in full sun.
The best time to harvest your mint is in the morning before heat or sun has warmed the leaves. For the best flavor, pick mint before the plants bloom. After it flowers, you won't get as strong a flavor. Simply pluck off leaves as needed, or shear the stems back, which also encourages good branching and new flushes of tender growth.
Related: Mint Julep Recipes
More Varieties of Mint
Mentha suaveolens has a delightful wintergreen flavor and fragrance. The fresh leaves can be used to make apple-mint jelly or a stomach-soothing tea. Like other mints, it can be invasive. Applemint grows 3 feet tall and can spread several feet wide. Zones 5-9.
This variety of Mentha piperita is a fast-spreading selection with dark green leaves, purple-tinted stems, and a light chocolate-mint fragrance. It grows 3 feet tall and can spread indefinitely. Zones 4-9.
Mentha x gracilis, often referred to as ginger mint, is a lovely mint has bright green foliage with yellow veins. It has a gingery scent atop the common mint fragrance. Zones 5-9.
Mentha spicata 'Julep' is a selection of spearmint that grows 18-24 inches tall and 14-18 inches wide. In summer, it bears ivory to white flowers. Zones 4-11.
Mentha dulcia citreus 'Hillary's Sweet Lemon' was developed from a cross of apple mint and lime mint, affording a fruity, citrusy aroma to the plant. It was named for former First Lady Hillary Clinton. The plant produces gray-green foliage, which grows to 18 inches tall, and, like most mints, it can spread aggressively. Zones 4-9.
This variety of Mentha spicata has silvery, elongated leaves on plants that grow 18-24 inches tall and wide. In summer, the plant produces an abundance of pinkish flowers, which dry well. Zones 4-10.
This Mentha spicata selection is a spearmint with excellent minty-green foliage, often used to flavor mint juleps and mojitos. The plant bears white, pink, or lavender blooms in summer and grows 2-3 feet tall. Zones 4-9.
Mentha spicata 'Mojito' has a flavor suitable for the Cuban drink by the same name; however, it is different from the true mojito mint, which is a hybrid between spearmint and apple mint. 'Mojito' grows 2-3 feet tall and spreads at least as wide. Zones 4-11.
Mentha piperita f. citrata 'Orange', also called bergamot mint, develops bright green leaves lightly tinged with red. The foliage has a lovely citrus fragrance and flavor that makes it a good addition to a wide range of dishes. It grows 3 feet tall and spreads several feet wide. Zones 4-9.
Mentha aquatica, as its name suggests, grows in standing water up to 3 inches deep. It also can grow in moist garden soil. In summer, water mint bears lavender-purple flowers. The plant grows 2-3 feet tall and spreads unless contained. Zones 5-11.
This Mentha spicata variety is an extremely vigorous variety of spearmint. It tolerates frequent shearing to harvest its minty, wrinkled green leaves for tea or flavoring other dishes. The plant grows 24 inches tall and spreads at least 18 inches wide. Zones 4-11.
Mentha suaveolens 'Variegata' brightens corners of the garden with its white-edge leaves. This mint has a fruity flavor. It grows 3 feet tall and several feet wide. Zones 5-9.
Mentha spicata offers a mild flavor that gives the plant versatility in the kitchen. Spearmint can withstand higher soil moisture; tuck it beneath a downspout for a happy mint patch. Zones 4-9.
This selection of Mentha x piperita packs the strongest mint flavor. It grows 12-30 inches tall and 18 inches wide. Zones 3-8.
Mentha × piperita 'Todd's Mitcham' is a variety of peppermint that is widely grown commercially for peppermint oil extraction. It has high essential oil content and is resistant to verticillium wilt. Zones 4-9.
Mentha longifolia is a type of water mint native to the Mediterranean, but it also has naturalized in much of the eastern United States. It has numerous common names, including horsemint, Habek mint, brook mint, and buddleia mint. With its elongated gray foliage on a plant growing up to 4 feet tall, it resembles butterfly bush (Buddleia spp.). Zones 5-11.
Mentha arvensis, also known as field mint or corn mint, is native throughout most of North America. It bears whorls of white, pale lavender, or pale pink flowers from mid- to late summer. You are most likely to find plants through native plant society plant sales. Like most mints, it can spread aggressively. Zones 2-10.